(NewsNation) — Two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters crashed Wednesday night in southwestern Kentucky during a routine training mission, killing all nine service members on board, U.S. Army officials confirmed to NewsNation.
“My heart goes out to the families of these servicemembers and to the members of the 101st Airborne Division who bravely and proudly serve our country each and every day,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III said in a statement Thursday. “I am working with Army leadership to make sure our troops and their families receive the care that they need in the wake of this accident.”
The HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, part of the 101st Airborne Division, crashed around 10 p.m. Wednesday in Trigg County, Kentucky.
Deputy Commander Brigadier Gen. John Lubas with the 101st Airborne Division said he is unable to provide any information on the victims of the crash as victims’ families are still being notified.
“This is a truly tragic loss for our families, our division and Fort Campbell. Our No. 1 priority is caring for the families and the soldiers within our combat aviation brigade,” Lubas said.
Lubas said the Army will provide more information once that process is complete. He said an aircraft safety team was deployed from Fort Rucker in Alabama to help investigate the incident to help the division understand what caused the crash.
“Today is a tough and tragic day for Kentucky, for Fort Campbell and for the 101st. The nine individuals we lost are children of God. They will be mourned and missed by their families and communities,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said during his remarks.
The crash remains under investigation.
Lubas said the mission the soldiers were on was a routine training exercise where they were flying a multiship formation under night-vision goggles at night.
One helicopter held five soldiers while the second held four. Lubas confirmed it is typical to have that many passengers on each aircraft. Lubas said both of the helicopters involved were medical evacuation aircraft, clarifying that the accident occurred while the aircraft were flying, not when they were completing medical evacuation drills.
“The crash occurred in a field, some wooded area,” Kentucky State Police Trooper Sarah Burgess said at a news briefing. “At this time, there are no reports of residence damage.”
Nick Tomaszewski, who lives about a mile from where the crash occurred, said he saw two helicopters flying over his house moments before the crash.
“For whatever reason, last night my wife and I were sitting there looking out on the back deck, and I said, ‘Wow, those two helicopters look low, and they look kind of close to one another tonight,’” he said.
The helicopters flew over and looped back around, and moments later, “We saw what looked like a firework went off in the sky.”
“All of the lights in their helicopter went out. It was like they just poofed … and then we saw a huge glow like a fireball,” Tomaszewski said.
Flyovers for training exercises happen almost daily, and the helicopters typically fly low, but not so close together, he said.
Members of the Kentucky Senate stood for a moment of silence Thursday morning in honor of the crash victims.
“We do not know the extent of what has gone on, but I understand it is bad and there has been a substantial loss of life of our military,” Senate President Robert Stivers told a somber chamber.
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a press briefing that his thoughts and prayers are with the families and “all those affected by this tragedy.”
“We take safety very very seriously. Each aviation unit will have a safety branch to maintain constant situational awareness on culture,” Ryder said. “Any accident is incredibly unfortunate and something we take very seriously.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of what we do is inherently dangerous,” he added.
Last month, two Tennessee National Guard pilots were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed along an Alabama highway during a training exercise.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.